Faith Christian's Jeff Stocks named boys coach of the year
By Rob Craig
Published in Sports on March 18, 2007 2:15 AM
Jeff Stocks finally caught himself relaxing.
The butterflies of nervousness were beginning to be replaced with feelings of excitement.
Faith Christian was about to capture its first ever N.C. Christian Schools Association Class 2-A basketball championship.
"We went up by seven and I poked my assistant and said 'maybe we got it' and it was just a chill bump experience," said Stocks. "Then I turned to him and said finally."
After 14 seasons, his Conquerors had captured the state's top prize. Now, the veteran coach has another award -- the 2007 News-Argus Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
"It's an honor, but I believe coaches are good because players are good," said Stocks. "Talent makes coaches and I had good basketball talent. Any award I receive is because of the team."
During his time on the Conquerors bench, Stocks has witnessed some very talented teams fall short of the ultimate goal.
"To be honest, we were supposed to win (a state title) last year," said Stocks. "We were the team to beat and we got beat in the first round. We were just so nervous and tight last year due to a lot of pressure that they put on themselves."
The defeat stung just a little worse when Stocks learned the team that won the state title was one who the Conquerors had beaten twice that season.
"We just felt like we had a monkey on our backs about winning the big one," he said.
Following the loss, only the Conquerors second in 25 games during 2005-06, Stocks stuck one message in his players' heads.
"Remember this feeling," he said. "We don't want to feel it next year."
The next season, the Conquerors welcomed back three key starters along with plenty of determined veteran players who pushed their teammates.
"I think (the loss) made them work harder this past summer," Stocks said. "Senior leadership was very good. They pushed these guys."
When the season began, Stocks tried his best to alleviate some of the pressure high expectations had brought to his squad.
"We try to stress that winning isn't the most important thing and I think that relieves some of the pressure on us," he said. "I think this year the guys put more pressure on themselves than anyone else did because they realized what they could do -- if they worked at it."
Led by talented seniors Aaron Sladick and T.J. Sasser, Faith Christian dominated opponents and focused on the state playoffs. The problem was, there was still games to be played before the final tournament.
Two late-season losses in a 10-day span cost the Conquerors a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs, but provided a earth-shattering wake-up call.
"I think we were looking ahead too far," said Stocks. "I think once we knew we were into the state tournament we kind of relaxed a little. I don't know if a loss is ever good, but it didn't hurt us.
"One of the teams that beat us in the regional tournament was a team who we beat twice earlier," he said. "It was a reminder anyone could beat anyone."
Refocused, the Conquerors blitzed their first two opponents before meeting Woodland Baptist in the state final.
Before the final game, Stocks did his best to ease the nerves of his team.
"I told them it was just an honor to get to this point so just try to relax and they seemed to," he said.
Stocks watched a group of kids, many of whom he has known since he served as their fifth grade teacher, bring home the state title in convincing fashion with a 55-39 victory.
"The guys really worked hard since ninth grade and it was great to see them finally accomplish their goal," said Stocks, whose team finished with a 25-3 record.
Now with the championship season behind him, Stocks will deal with expectations at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Losing seniors Nathaniel Patel, Blake Plummer, Allen Ray Darby along with Sladick and Sasser, means lower expectations for the Conquerors in 2007-08 and a different message to tell his returning players.
"Nobody will expect us to be very good next season so maybe we can prove people wrong," said Stocks. "I think that's one reason we're consistently competitive, our goal is always to win. We may not win state, but we want to get there and compete."
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